St. Agnes Mining – Wheal Coates
House hunting in St Agnes isn’t the worst way to spend your free time and that is exactly what we were doing when our afternoon unexpectedly freed up and we were left wondering what to do.
After a quick lunch in the recommended ‘Taphouse‘ (Surfers paradise/Mexican restaurant in appearance – decent food and drinks at a respectable price), we or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I, decided to drag my family to see something I find quite magical. Unsure if they would share my sentiment, we went ‘mine hunting’. Not the loud, explosive, dangerous kind, well not so much these days anyway but the quiet, old, majestic derelict engine houses and chimneys that litter the Cornish countryside and that I have come to (pretty much) obsess about.
I first fell completely under their spell when I was 8 and studying them at school, since then I have never been able to shake the feeling of a deeper connection. Jay, having on more than one occasion found me and without any form of libation (well…not before lunch anyways) casually conversing with these old buildings, I am fairly sure that he now thinks I am completely mad.
We had spotted a few today as we were driving between houses and I was itching to get up close. The first we found was (as is typical) in two parts. The engine house solemn in its duty of dictating the end of someones garden and it’s chimney a few yards away on a neighbours land. My longing to get close to these beautiful giants was short lived, for the rain that had started to come down with increased fervour was enough of a deterrent. We jumped back into the car and off we went, onto the next.
Blue Hills Tin Mine
The second was to our joy, sign posted. Blue Hills Tin Mine in it’s hey-day (1858 – 1897) raised some 2,117 tons of Black Tin. Today unfortunately we reached the visitors centre that demonstrates how the tin ore once was turned into tin metal and subsequently into fine tin jewellery, too late, it had closed for the afternoon.
Although a little disappointed, we turned to regard the remains of a hauntingly beautiful engine house standing before us and with unusual fortune (for the day) discovered it lay on our side of the locked gates. It stood amongst a scattering of time worn buildings each long succumbed to nature. I took my leave, scrabbling through the brambles and undergrowth until I stood at her feet looking up at her daunting facade. Derelict and overgrown she stood there austere and silent yet still seemed to hum an inaudible noise, the bustle of the men going to work and the vibrations of the heavy machinery reminiscent of another time. Aware the others were patiently waiting for me to come back to both the car and to my senses, I said my goodbyes and re-joined them.
The rain had given way to blue skies, so we decided to explore the footpath that lead to a small beach cove. We ambled along, engaged in a rather cheery conversation about the treachery of mining and all who had lived and died at these old workings. As if in answer to our thoughts, we found our selves face to face with a rather stern looking chimney and stopping for a minute, we paid our respects. By now both Jay and Evie had joined me on board the the lunacy train and we stood hands against its rough stone exterior none of us caring if fellow hikers watched on in judgement. Feeling like a new wave of tree huggers, we headed down onto Trevellas Cove.
We had been blown about by the gusting onshore wind for the best part of twenty minutes. Having walked the sandy beach and found at low tide you could walk right round the craggy outcrop at the far end to St Agnes harbour, we decided that was an adventure for another day. We clambered over the boulders left by industry and the elements, back up over the rocks that lead us down onto the sand, back through the ruins and to the car, waving our hearty goodbyes to anything that stood still long enough to listen. We had one more stop to make…
‘Wheal’ meaning ‘place of work’ or ‘mine’, this iconic engine house is a fantastic surprise to the unsuspecting visitor. We were at first greeted by two engine houses once responsible for hoisting and crushing tin. Now over 200 years old, yielding the memories of 140 miners that worked within and worn from the years standing against the unobstructed elements, these derelict buildings are still as majestic today as they ever were.
Wheal Coates Mine: 1815-1914 – produced 335 tons Copper and 717 tons of Tin. It provided the essential raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution in Britain. By using steam engine technology originally motivated by the need to pump water out of mines it ultimately enabled the development of steam trains.
We headed down the cliff path (not so much a path), and were met by a glittering expanse of ocean. Just below us and exactly as I remembered from my school trip, there stood Towanroath engine house, sat on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the water below. The most photographed of them all for a very good reason – Wheal Coates’ Towanroath is indeed beautiful. Now owned by the National Trust, this site (along with many of the other mines around Cornwall) has celebrated it’s tenth year of UNESCO world heritage status and is definitely worth a visit.
Eventually it was time to head home, three tired and utterly mad explorers piled into the car . I take one last look over my shoulder at the ancient ruins still visible on the horizon resolutely maintaining their watch out over our waters. For us it’s home to sleep and get ready for our next adventure.